mixing vs. mastering

Discussion in 'Mixing & Song Critique' started by Rob de Boer, Jul 1, 2003.

  1. Rob de Boer

    Rob de Boer Guest


    This must be an utter newbie question, but what exactly is the distinction between mastering and mixing? I know that mixing is putting the tracks together in a nice mix and panning and eq-ing the instruments/vox to various positions in the left-right spectrum, but where exactly does the mastering come in? Is that everything that is done with the track after it is mixed? If yes, then what constitutes a A to Z mastering session? I've heard multiband compression, limiting, etc. But I've also read threads discussing the enhancement of vocals or whatever else in a mastering session, how does one do that? Shouldn't that be part of the mixing bit of the production?

    Anyway, I see that this is a lotta questions, but I was just wondering where mixing ends and mastering starts.

    Regards, Rob
  2. vinniesrs

    vinniesrs Active Member

    May 12, 2003
    Rob, your question may be a newbie question, but a lot of guys who aren't newbies don't understand the importance of or effect that mastering has in a recording.
    Personally I feel that in a lot of cases a good mix off the desk, sounds better than the mastered version, but not always.
    Mastering takes a mix and "fixes" a lot of stuff. First is the quest for loudest playing volume. Because your mix is composed of numerous instruments like drums, and bass guitar, dynamically speaking the range from the quietest sound to the loudedst sound is too great to bring the overall level up without distorting. Multiband limiting allows a mastering engineer to do this over the song in sections, so that the average volume is increased but you can still keep more dynamics in the song, like bass guitar and kick drum. A mastering engineer can also make your stereo image wider, or narrower, whatever suits your needs. In addition to this are noise reduction, decisions pertaining to song order, and equalization for each song to ensure that an album has an even tonality from start to finish.

    There are many more processes involved in mastering, but they are very complex, and I wouldn't say I have a good enough grasp on it to fully explain. Mastering engineers are in their own little hi-fi world, and they do magical things!

    For a liitle more info on mastering, you should read some posts about specific parts of the process, in the mastering forum! There is a ton of great info in there!
  3. Rob de Boer

    Rob de Boer Guest

    Steve, thanks for the explanation. Things are a bit more clear to me now. In the end the mastering job is a totally different league than a mixing job, maybe not even the same sport...

    There seems to be a lot more to it than I figured.... I'll go check out some threads in the mastering section and see what I can learn (have to do everything by myself... not much of a mastering budget in the projects I'm working on...)

    Regards, Rob.
  4. JBlake

    JBlake Guest


    See if you can find a copy of "The Mastering Engineer's Handbook" or "Mastering Audio - The art and the Science" by Bob Katz.
    I have "The Mastering Engineer's Handbook" and it's a great read for general info about the mastering process. There are some good interviews with some of the bigger mastering guys out there.
    I've heard good things about Bob Katz's book. I haven't read it myself. His web page is pretty informative too. Hope this helps.

  5. Rob de Boer

    Rob de Boer Guest


    Thanks for the tip, I'll go check out if they have that available here in the Netherlands.

    Regards, Rob
  6. sign

    sign Guest

    Rob, I invite you to go to my website and click on "other content". You will find a "cursus geluidstechniek".

    Hope it'll help you.

    Peace, Han
  7. Rob de Boer

    Rob de Boer Guest

    Excellent Han! This is really nice, and fills in a bunch of gaps in my knowledge (and answers questions I was always afraid to ask). I'll also go and dig through the forum on the website.

    Your(?) studio looks great too!

    Bedankt, Rob
  8. Guest

    Hey Han!

    Beautiful rooms. I got mierentietjes just looking at the pix! But what's a Zimmerman? Never bumped into one before... can you tell me anything about it?
  9. Don Grossinger

    Don Grossinger Distinguished past mastering moderator Active Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    just north of NYC
    Home Page:
    Philosopically, mastering is having an unbiased perspective on a project. Then having the tools & taste to use those tools in a manner that will allow the recording to sound it's best. Very often artists loose perspective by listening to their recording over & over during the writing, rehersal, recording, & mixing processes. Often they can't see the forest for the trees.

    A mastering engineer has to listen to lots of different kinds of music & know how, in conjunction with the {artist/ producer/ record company}: choose one or more, to make that recording fulfil the artist's vision. Some times it's opening up the sound & making it clearer. Sometimes its tightening up the low end for greater impact, etc. Each project is different. There are NO presets.

    If the artist / producer "nailed it" during the mix, the mastering engineer must know just to make a clean replication master & not mess with the sound at all. It's really taking a global look at the project, making sure it all flows together & sounds unified and satisfying. And commercial, however that is defined in each case.

    It's really a polishing process: giving a project just the extra bit it needs to really shine.
  10. Rob de Boer

    Rob de Boer Guest

    Hey Don,

    Clear description, thanks. Too bad that in the project I'm doing there's no budget for a mastering engineer. I'm gonna have to do the whole thing myself. So much for an unbiased view on the project... :)

    Anyway, I also took a look at your website. Pretty impressive record! Skimming your list of artists, a question came to mind. Personally I really like what Sonic Youth does, but what I was wondering is how do you, as a mastering engineer, go about mastering a genre like that? Did the guys and girl sit in on the mastering session? I mean, someone has to decide what noise is noise, and what noise is part of the music, right? I'm just curious.

    Regards, Rob
  11. Don Grossinger

    Don Grossinger Distinguished past mastering moderator Active Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    just north of NYC
    Home Page:

    That's what keeps it interesting! There are so many decisions to be made. Many times an artist hears things in mastering that they didn't even realize were on the master they brought to the session. It's really where the "rubber hits the road" because there is nowhere else to go but to the store after I'm done. That's why we take all kinds of heat.

    "Noise" is sometimes a desired part of the program. I'll bet a lot of engineers scratched their heads when they first worked on Jimi Hendrix's stuff. Same for John Coltrane. Same for....
    You've got to give the artist lots of "creative room" and not impose your values on their project. You have to make it sound like they want (or what you think they want, if you're mastering on your own). That's where good taste comes in. For Sonic Youth, if I remember correctly, my job was to cut vinyl for an existing project. They did not come in & I was only supposed to do a nice loud, clean cut.
  12. sagreene

    sagreene Guest

    the book by bob katz is available here:

    (just noticed it was posted above though)

    they have the proaud mailing list also, if you subscribe to this list and actually understand 10% of it then you are very well educated in electonics and acoustics. Most of this stuff just flies over my head.
  13. TACurtis

    TACurtis Guest

    LOL, too funny. I just got both of those books the other day. Katz's book is far more technical and covers a wider array of subjects but they are perfectly complimentary to each other.

    See you at The Dude Pit, Jon!

    PS: Don, if the mastering engineer's job is to be the "master" of the recording process, for want of a better word, what is the producer's role in the recording process itself? Does the producer hire you and/or your studio in an attempt to take advantage of your particular sound?
  14. Don Grossinger

    Don Grossinger Distinguished past mastering moderator Active Member

    Jan 16, 2002
    just north of NYC
    Home Page:
    I think the producer's role is to work on arraingements, the overall tone of the project, getting the right vibe to allow the band to do it's best in the studio & getting all this to tape (or file). Also acting as go-between between the band & the engineer & the record company.

    I'd like to feel that I do not have a particular "sound" other than "good". I am there to make the producer & band sound better than they thought they could after they've done all they can.
  15. tripnek

    tripnek Active Member

    Jun 9, 2003
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